The lawyer who advised five police officers to alter their statements concerning the stop and search of a man who later died is under investigation by the Solicitors Regulation Authority, The Independent can reveal.
Detective Superintendent Jason Liles, Detective Constable Richard Bazeley and PCs Kate Granger, Chris Pomery and Howard Wynne of Thames Valley Police had admitted deleting parts of their initial statements, including references to use of force, from statements subsequently provided to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) of their encounter with Habib “Paps” Ullah on 3 July 2008.
The 39-year-old father of three from Slough, Berkshire, was declared dead at Wycombe General hospital around 90 minutes after the car in which he and friends were travelling was stopped in High Wycombe.
The five officers were cleared of gross misconduct this week after the disciplinary panel found that all their amendments were made “on the basis of legal advice” and that correct process following “traumatic incidents” had been followed.
Mr Ullah’s family complained after the officers admitted they had followed the advice of Shula de Jersey, then an assistant solicitor for RJW, a firm that gave legal advice to the Police Federation.
According to the unpublished IPCC final report into the incident, obtained by The Independent, DC Bazeley explained that Ms de Jersey advised him that he should delete the words “with some force” when referring to the blow struck by DS Liles into Mr Ullah’s back as “it was wrong for him to express a view as to the use of force”.
The officer said he struck Mr Ullah to try to stop him swallowing class A drugs and there is no suggestion the slap contributed to his death.
Ms de Jersey was “entirely satisfied” she had behaved “professionally and appropriately at all times”, the final report states.
Gerry Boyle, presenting the case against the officers, said on the first day of the hearing: “The nature and extent of the deletions and amendments these five officers made were on a breathtaking scale.”
The disciplinary panel, chaired by Thames Valley’s Assistant Chief Constable Laura Nicholson, said in its judgment that the altering of statements should be seen in the light of “circumstances as they were at the time”. It added that it was satisfied “all the amendments were made on the basis of legal advice” and that the production of draft statements was “merely part of the process of producing a final signed statement”.
The panel concluded that the draft statements were subject to legal professional privilege and that there was “accordingly no obligation to inform the IPCC of its existence, or its details”.
The Justice4Paps group called the verdict a “complete whitewash” and said it is considering a civil claim against Thames Valley Police.
Marian Ellingworth, representing Mr Ullah’s family, said: “The family are devastated and I’m advising them as to legal remedies, including vigorously pursuing the complaint to the SRA about the solicitor Shula de Jersey. I am also considering advising the family in relation to a legal challenge to the panel’s decision.”
The IPCC told Ms de Jersey in March 2011 that she was also subject to a criminal investigation. The CPS decided not to take any further action.
The solicitor said: “I have co-operated, and continue to cooperate, with the SRA investigation and I await the decision of the SRA.”
A spokesman for the regulator said it did not “normally comment” on investigations, adding: “It is only if disciplinary action is necessary that such issues become a matter of public record.”
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